This loss was my fault. I take full responsibility, and I apologize for letting down the team, the University, and my fellow fans. I normally wear a hat to the games, but I forgot to grab one when I left for work yesterday morning, and decided it was not worth the extra time to stop back by my crib before departing for Tuscaloosa. It won't happen again.
Slow starts have been a major problem this year. It seems we fall behind in the early goings of every game, and it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of our struggles. Part of it may be the myriad of different starting lineups we have put on the court due to injuries and other reasons. Moussa Gueye got the start in place of the injured Carl Engstrom, and he pretty much had as bad of a first 2 or 3 minutes of the game as humanly possible. As for the injured guys, Carl was not there, and Andrew was present but did not dress out.
Dayton jumped out to an early 11-2 lead which set the tone for the game. Releford and Lacey did not play as good defensively as we would have liked, and Dayton got numerous open 3 pointers which they were able to knock down. Pollard came in and gave us a spark, and we went on a run in the first half to fight back and take the lead around the five minute mark, but Dayton was able to take control and take a 5 point lead into the half, which they stretched to 15 at one point in the second half. Bama never quit, and a frantic comeback cut the lead to 5 in the final minute, but we could not make the plays to give us a chance to win. The last best hope was when Cooper had an open 3 at the top of the key down 6 around 35 seconds left that would have cut the lead in half, but came up short with an air ball.
I was hoping for a better effort coming off the Cincinnati loss, and given the fact that the Flyers absolutely destroyed us in Dayton last year. Dayton, to their credit, while not being a great team does seem to really get up for the big games. Their record against the SEC and ACC over the last couple of years is very impressive.
Living and dying with the press, as we do, with only 8 scholarship players is a recipe for disaster. A lot of the missed perimeter shots down the stretch were likely the result of fatigued legs. Furthermore, Dayton had enough quickness and enough ball handlers, that when they beat our press they were able to get to the basket for easy layups.
This one was of our worst defensive performances of the Coach Grant era. As I mentioned earlier, our guards did a poor job of closing out on their shooters out of the 2-3 zone. Our transition defense was horrible all night. We got beat down the court on numerous occasions, many times following made baskets, which is completely inexcusable. It seemed every time we made a big shot, they would answer just seconds later. Our big men are incapable of playing man to man defense. We did not run much man, because when we did they would either throw into the post, where we had no choice but to double team leaving someone open, or they would move our bigs away from the basket and beat us off the dribble. Coach Grant rarely gets emotional in the huddle, but we could hear him yelling at the guys during a timeout early in the 2nd half after Dayton extended the lead.
Offensively, we were stagnant against their man to man pressure. We did not set screens or move well without the ball. I thought Releford tried to do too much himself at times and forced some bad shots. At times, it seemed our offensive strategy was for the Trevors to dribble into traffic, initiate contact, and hope for a foul call against Dayton. One positive is that we were able to get to the line, and with the exception of Nick "Brick" Jacobs, we made our free throws.
Another key to the game was Releford picking up some dumb fouls, including his 4th with over 10 minutes left to play. Retin did the best he could running the point in Releford's absence, but we missed his scoring and driving ability when we needed it the most.
With around 7 minutes, we had cut the lead to 9 and appeared to have forced a turnover, but the officials ruled that Dayton called a timeout first. Moussa Gueye was then called for a foul on a 3 point attempt, giving Dayton 3 free throws. Gueye injured his knee in the process and did not return. It was that kind of night. Coach Grant said after the game that his impression was that Gueye could have returned "if needed."
While I have been critical of the team's overall effort last night, I do want to point out that Levi Randolph played a solid game. He got after it at both ends and was a big reason why we were able to come back from 15 down to at least be within shouting distance at the end.
While I understand that it is difficult to execute at a high level every night in college basketball, good teams have to find a way to win these types of games at home. Dayton is a decent team, and as I said, they seem to play well against "bigger name" opponents, but they also lost to Weber St. They aren't world beaters, and at the end of the year will probably be an NIT team at best. Any encouragement I had from playing Cincinnati close is now gone. Now with a very difficult game in what will probably be the most hostile environment we will face all year against a very solid VCU team looming, we are facing a very real possibility of taking a 3 game losing streak into Lubbock, TX for our game against the Red Raiders in a couple of weeks.
It was probably the best crowd of the season so far, and I would estimate around 9,000 were in attendance. It was a subdued atmosphere most of the night with Dayton being in control for all but a couple of minutes in the first half. There were only a thousand or so people left when we made our frantic run in the final 2 minutes.
Up next, 10 days off for finals that will hopefully give us a chance to get healthy and work on some obvious issues before we head to Richmond, VA for a 4pm EST (3 Central) tipoff against the VCU Rams on Saturday, December 15. We will desperately need a quality road win to off set this loss to Dayton, and looking at our schedule, there are not many realistic chances of such. VCU may be our best opportunity, although I am sure it will be a very hostile environment in the small, sold out arena where Coach Grant is not a very popular figure.